Dr Mark Seaman is in his final year of GP training, he is a mental health advocate, fitness enthusiast, and trustee for You Okay, Doc? A mental health charity for doctors.
In this article, Mark chats candidly to Medworld about what inspired him to become a doctor and offers advice for other doctors looking to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.
Tell me a bit about yourself, and why you wanted to become a doctor?
I often wonder what exactly drew me to medicine as well. I was not sure what I wanted to do as a career path and had many different ideas eventually coming down to choosing between training as a vet or a doctor. I loved science at school and learning how and why things work the way they do - especially how animals and the human body works.
I also grew up working in pub kitchens from a young age and enjoyed meeting new people and being part of a service industry which I think has helped me with shift patterns and working in pressurised teams.
I did not go straight to medical school (medicine was not really even on my mind when applying for university) and I did a degree in Biomedicine in the north of England which was a great experience and I developed a lot as a person. During the studious part of my undergraduate degree, I realised I enjoyed learning about the pathology of disease more and more and that working in a lab was not for me. I think this combination led me to know I wanted to do something that helped or provided a service whilst also keeping alive my love of learning. What made me commit to applying for medicine was a survival first aid course I did on which there were some paramedics and doctors, who encouraged me to apply. I then spent a year working as a healthcare assistant and a chef at a local pub to save for medical school which I was fortunate enough to get into.
What area of medicine are you currently working in?
I am currently in my final year of GP training. During medical school, I thought I would pursue surgery as I like practical problem-solving tasks and enjoyed theatre but during my foundation years, I realised I also enjoyed medicine a great deal so I pursued a further two years of medical training in the Republic of Ireland and getting my MRCPI. During this time I started thinking about what speciality I wanted to spend my career in, I realised I could not pick one and enjoyed everything in parts which led me to return to the UK to start GP training.
I think that is one of the great things about medical training, there are always lots of choices and it's okay to be unsure and change your mind.
Have you ever experienced burnout, if yes, can you tell me a bit about it and how you got through it?
I have been asked this question a fair few times now and often considered what burnout means. It is defined as unmanageable stress rooted in the workplace with feelings of exhaustion, being dissatisfied with or negative about your job and being less efficient at it. Have I felt the exhaustion, yes. Have I felt negative about my job, yes. Have I been less productive during those times, if I am honest with myself then probably, yes. I have certainly had low points where I have felt all of those, particularly during the height of the pandemic on the medical rota but also at separate times on certain jobs throughout my career.
I feel burnout can be a spectrum, with signs at the beginning that if you can recognise you can take actions to help yourself -the problem is often it's hard to notice it in ourselves and this is why having honest and supportive friends, family and colleagues can be so important.
We all need to look out for each other and ask simply are you okay from time to time - checking in on yourself and asking the same question honestly can also be helpful.
If you find the answer is "no I am not okay", ask yourself why and what it is, can you do something to change it? For me taking a break was important, I took leave and focused on myself and on returning to work. I made sure I did the simple things like taking breaks, checking in with friends, spending time on hobbies and going to the gym.
I see that you are a passionate advocate for mental health and wellbeing, was there a specific incident that motivated you to get involved in this field?
There has been no one particular event that I can pinpoint and say this is why it is so important to me, but rather multiple events throughout my career so far including my time at medical school that have highlighted the importance of mental health and wellbeing. The mental health and wellbeing of ourselves as doctors was something that I can't recall being well addressed at medical school, but I think it would have helped a lot.
I have always been enthused with physical wellbeing and fitness from a young age though it has only been in recent years I have started to understand that mental fitness is just as important. At the foundations of our wellbeing, we have our health which is equal parts mental and physical.
To get the very best out of ourselves, I am a firm believer in developing an understanding of yourself which is very much a journey.
Learning what gives you energy and what makes you as a person whole. It's different for everyone and starting to look inward and exploring what keeps you well and whole is something I recommend everyone try. There lies an endless supply of resources on wellbeing out there, but learning what works for you and what you enjoy doing for your wellbeing will be unique to you -that is what I believe will make it sustainable and beneficial.
What do you do to look after yourself and your own mental health and wellbeing?
I am sort of continuing on from the last question here and starting off by saying what works for me won't necessarily work for you. I think there are key pillars to mental health that include; sleep, being active, having a network (friends, colleagues, family), having a purpose (it doesn’t have to be your job it can be a hobby!), and nutrition.
By no way or means am I always doing well at all of those, but I really do notice the difference when I do. I am lucky, I enjoy going to the gym and running but that doesn't have to be the way that someone else stays fit and active.
I think finding something that’s good for you and you enjoy is often the key to sustaining a good habit.
I also love reading and try and make sure I read a book that is not related to the day job every day. Through the pandemic, I also started drawing again which is a great way for me to let my mind wander.
I do check in on myself regularly, often when running in the countryside I let my thoughts drift and see if there's anything bothering me subconsciously and if so during the run I often manage to think it out and feel settled by the end.
Can you tell me a bit about You Okay Doc? What does the charity do? and why did you choose to get involved as a trustee?
You Okay, Doc? is a mental health charity for doctors that was set up by one of my best friends from medical school (Daniel Gearon) and co-founded by a psychotherapist (Chris Cherry).
The impetus for starting the charity was a tragic physician suicide by the founder's cousin. The charity was set up to try and fill a real gap and need for supporting doctors mental health.
It has really grown in the last two years with the provision of Huddles which are therapist-led small group sessions doctors can attend to discuss their wellbeing, podcasts, webinars, events and an ever-growing community within the charity to help normalise talking about mental health and wellbeing of doctors and provide help where we can.
I got involved initially as a founding ambassador because I really believed in the purpose of the charity and what it can do to help doctors wellbeing. I have been lucky enough to be a part of it and really enjoyed the process. It's an amazing team and community to be a part of. I agreed to take the position of a trustee when it was offered as I was very involved anyway in the charity and wanted to help be part of its growth.
From your Instagram, I can see you spend a lot of time outdoors and focus on physical fitness. How do you prioritise to create such a positive work/life balance?
Well, I certainly don't always get it right, especially not initially.
I think it is important where you can to prioritise the things you enjoy and try and make the most of them.
I make things work around the job and also remember that it is healthy to leave work/handover and take time for things outside your job. It can be very easy with exams, projects, audits and portfolios to let them eat up your free time - which happened at the beginning, and still does occasionally, though less so as I am better at setting boundaries within my personal time and work time for these things. I am more productive at work and better for it.
Do you have any advice for other doctors who are wanting to prioritise their own health and wellbeing?
Remember it is a job, it can be a great job with so many amazing experiences and opportunities, but it is still a job.
Prioritising your wellness is not selfish and it certainly isn't always easy but it will help you have a happier career. If you are just starting to look at your own wellbeing it can sometimes be overwhelming, start small find things you enjoy and build on these. Small sustainable actions beat sudden unsustainable ones every time.
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